The Ideal Brochure for Public Education (from 10-10-12)

I wrote earlier this week about how a brochure for public education might read now that education deformers have had their way. Such a brochure would advertise things like Conformity, Data-Obsession, and Core-Class Focus (at the expense of the arts). It seems to me that most of the “improvements” hoisted on public education have actually been designed to make public schools as unappealing as possible. Jeb Bush, education deformer extraordinaire, even tipped his hand a bit in an editorial to the Orlando Sentinel in April. In touting the virtues of virtual school, he stated, “Digital learning can transform education from a factory-style system into a personalized, achievement-based system.” Aside from the laughable idea that virtual school is personalized (in any way other than the self-paced aspect of it), the truly ironic thing about his comment was that Bush and his policies of grading, punishing, and rewarding schools based on test scores is what led them to becoming “factory-style.” If Bush objects to schools that operate “factory style,” he has only his own policies, and those of his brother and President Obama to blame. 

But this made me wonder, what should a brochure for public schools look like, and, by implication, what should our public schools actually look like? 

Well, based on my own experiences of school as a student, teacher, and parent, and based on what I have read about what really works in my reading about effective education systems, here is what I think public school brochures should read like:

INDIVIDUALIZED INSTRUCTION: Your student is an individual, not a number. We want to treat your student like a person. Our teachers look at where their students are at, where they want them to be, and help them to grow from there.

INQUIRY AND CURIOSITY: We want students to not just answer good questions, but to ask good questions. We want to inspire curiosity and fascination with the world around them. We model that fascination and curiosity ourselves as teachers. 

CONNECTIONS: We want students to realize that the Sherlock Holmes story they read in Language Arts demonstrates some of the scientific principles they learned in science, that the concepts they learn in Math might influence the economics they learn in History. We want students to see connections between different areas of study, between different things they read, and between what they learn and themselves. We want them to see that there is space between the subjects where fascinating things are happening. (What happens in our brains when we read a great story?) We want students to see that standards are really a minimalist way of looking at learning, and that sometimes the most important things we learn are off the “beaten path” of standards and curriculum maps.

ENGAGEMENT: We are not here to entertain students with gimmicks that make learning seem like fun. We are here to engage students in learning, to show them that learning is fun— and hard work, at the same time. We want students to learn to engage themselves in learning, by awakening their curiosity (see above.)

CREATIVITY: Creativity is the skill of the future: creative thinkers innovate, find solutions to the world’s problems, and generate useful ideas in all areas of life. We believe teachers can’t give away what they don’t have, so we encourage our teachers to tap into their own creativity to meet students where they’re at, to use their creativity to help students develop theirs. We don’t want to teach our students that there is always one right answer to every situation, but that there may be many right answers.

CHARACTER: We want students to engage in an ongoing dialogue about what it means to be an individual in a democratic society. We want students to realize the value of character traits like empathy, perseverance, and trustworthiness. We want students to understand that neither compliance nor non-conformity is always the path to take– that there will be times for both in a life, and to be a successful person means navigating between the two. We want them to understand that history and literature both hold up mirrors for us to look at and examine ourselves.

PASSION: We want students to make personal connections between themselves and the things they study, yet also be able to become so fascinated by the world around them that they forget themselves as well. We believe that helping students find their passions, develop their interests, and cultivate their individual talents is the best way to teach them to succeed.

VOCATION: Following your passion may help you find your vocation– your calling in life. We don’t want students to merely be competent at some random job they stumble into; we want our students to excel at a career that utilizes their deepest interests and their strongest skills, not just to make a lot of money, but to do some good in the world as well (see character above).

LITERACY: We believe that the ability to appreciate the power of words, the fun of words, the beauty of words, is essential for engagement in a world where words shape societies, cultures, histories, sciences, philosophies and faiths… our very lives. We believe reading is the best thing you can do for your brain, and that students will read a lot if they have passion and curiosity (see above) to guide them in their search for reading materials. We believe that in our digital age, more than ever before, everyone can be a writer. We believe that students learn to write best when they are allowed to follow their interests, encouraged to develop new interests, and given affirmation that they have something to say. We believe students should study great writers both for what they have to say, and how they say it. We believe that students should be able to write in multiple modes and that writing about other people’s writing is not the highest or best of those modes. We believe every student should be able to listen to and speak to the world– to have a discussion with it. 

We want our students not see their minds as buckets being passively filled up with knowledge, but as interconnected webs constantly adding new connections. We don’t care about test scores so much. We focus on these other, difficult to measure qualities and concepts (see above), because when we do, we develop world class thinkers, literate, creative, passionate individuals who are ready to take on and contribute to the world. Send us your children. You’ll be glad you did.